What If

Smart Schools Meet Smart Growth

The strategies for planning and designing smarter schools coincide with those for planning to accommodate the principles of smart growth. The most viable means for accommodating California's projected population and infrastructure needs for the next two decades is through a combination of more compact suburban development and a renewal of cities and towns. The planning and design of more community-centered schools can enhance the principles of smart growth. By serving as a catalyst for inner-city development, the proper planning of schools can help by: 1) Creating magnets for urban development; 2) Encouraging the development of inner-city housing and employment opportunities; 3) Improving mobility; 4) Reducing suburban migration; 5) Conserving greenfields.

Likewise, the implementation of smart growth principles supporting more urban development can improve education reform by: 6) Encouraging the creation of learning communities within the rich infrastructure of the urban environment; 7) Enhancing opportunities for community access and participation; and 8) Supporting teachers and school personnel by providing more affordable and attractive places to live and work.

1) Creating Urban Magnets

One of the key ingredients in the development of more viable cities and towns is to provide public facilities that act as magnets for development in inner cities and in already established suburbs. These magnets include things like libraries, parks, fitness and recreation centers, arts centers, and clinics for health and human services. One of the most important of these public facilities is a thriving and healthy system of public education.

2) Encouraging Inner City Housing and Employment Opportunities

The market for inner-city housing for families is in many cases dependent on the quality of inner-city schools. The design of more community-centered schools provides an opportunity for the development of more livable inner-city neighborhoods. To the degree that a larger number of smaller schools can be implemented, opportunities exist to provide access to educational facilities that are within close proximity, or even within walking distance to home. The result can be increased parental participation, less dependence on vehicular transportation and increased quality of life. To the degree that schools can also be designed to serve as social, recreational and cultural centers of their communities, these resources can also be provided with greater access and convenience.

Another factor influencing the development of inner-city housing is employment opportunities. Last year, schools alone employed 327,198 certified staff in the state of California. Schools, especially when combined with other community activities, can offer employment opportunities for administrative staff, teachers and support personnel.

3) Improving Mobility

In 1997-98, K-12 schools in the state of California spent $1,400,658,122 on transportation. Through the design of smaller schools and more compact neighborhood environments where parents, teachers and school personnel can find affordable housing within close proximity to schools, personal mobility can be enhanced and costs can be reduced. Within the more compact urban context, school transportation can also be more easily coordinated with existing public transit than in other places.

4) Reducing Suburban Migration

Developing schools as centers of community with increased access, community participation and improved academic achievement can help to create more livable communities and neighborhoods in the inner city. Many residents fleeing the inner city for the suburbs are leaving in search of more stable and dependable schools. One way to help reverse the trend of outward migration is to develop schools in cities and townships that encourage community involvement, achieve academic excellence and attract more people to live and raise their families there.

5) Conserving Greenfields

Every acre of brownfield developed in the inner city conserves at least one acre of greenfield in the rural environment and, depending on density, possibly more. Five to ten percent of California's urban areas, some 250,000 to 520,000 acres, are brownfields, empty lots and abandoned buildings (Bank of America et al, Beyond Sprawl: New Patterns of Growth to Fit the New California).

6) Building Learning Communities

Every community is a rich, information-filled database in full motion, where math, science, language arts and social studies are embedded in a set of resources that we use every day to explore, discover, innovate and produce. Integrating schools with their community in a way that enhances opportunities for mentorships, internships, shared facilities and other uses of the physical, cultural, social, economic and organizational environment as a teaching tool can be accomplished in suburban as well as rural environments. However, these opportunities are more accessible in the urban context of cities and towns where these community resources are more dense and proximate.

7) Increasing Community Participation and Access

Developing schools that serve as the center of their communities requires collaboration between students, parents, educators and community leaders and residents. Increased participation in the planning and implementation of more integrated and accessible school facilities provides opportunities to develop stronger and more lasting interactions and relationships among all community stakeholders.

8) Supporting Teachers and School Personnel

Developing smaller schools and affordable housing in the urban environment provides opportunities for teachers and school personnel with limited incomes to live within close proximity to public transit, or even within walking distance to their work. Opportunities also exist through tax increment and other financing strategies to encourage developers to create affordable and subsidized housing for all school personnel.